I've recently read a section in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language where Huddleston and Pullum talk about the focus of the perfect. They talk about the referred time (in the case of the perfect, the time before present or past tense) and the time of orientation (the tense, that is, present or past).

My question is, when we use a participle clause as a supplement, should the intended temporal setting of that participle clause match the referred or orientation time of the perfect matrix clause?

Take these examples:

[1] I have been here all night, waiting for you to arrive.

[2] I have completed the video game, taking my time.

Example 1 shows what CGEL would call a continuative perfect (which covers a time from the past into the present). Example two shows a non-continuative perfect (which does not continue into the present). Both examples, however, are in present tense.


I'm going to add an example that is perhaps more overt in its present time focus:

[3] Feeling rather good about himself, he has finished his homework.

Furthermore, here are four examples from CGEL, each highlighting a different use of the present perfect, taken from pp.141–142 (5.2, Complex anteriority: continuative and non-continuative perfects) and pp.143–146 (which goes over all non-continuative present perfects):

[4] She has lived in Berlin ever since she was married. (continuative)

The next three are all considered 'non-continuative':

[5] I've finally finished. (experiential)

[6] She has broken her leg. (resultative)

[7] She has recently been to Paris. (recent past)

My Example 1 would be a standard continuative. My Example 2 would be, I think, experiential.

  • My perspective is different.I think both your examples are fully focused on "the time before orientation (the past or further past)" (I'm assuming that means before time of utterance). For the alternative, I suggest I've been waiting for you all night, so I'd like to get home to bed soon as an example that's focused on "time of utterance" rather than "time in the past". Nov 22, 2023 at 16:03
  • It depends on what 'time focus' is defined to mean. Obviously, 'taking my time', while expressing manner, refers to the same period as the completion of the game. Nov 22, 2023 at 16:04
  • To add some extra detail, CGEL refers to orientation time, referred time, and deictic time. Deictic time is the time when something was written or spoken. Orientation time is effectively the tense (present or past). Referred time is inferred, so in the case of the past perfect, we could be referring to the time before the past. By 'time focus' I mean the referred, not the orientation or deictic time.
    – MJ Ada
    Nov 22, 2023 at 16:27
  • There are cases where the times can be different: "I have cleaned the house, pleasing my partner (when they got back from work later). Now I'm allowed to go out." I guess the lack of an English future participle is part of the reason for this flexibility; present participle is often used for consequences.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 22, 2023 at 16:40
  • Could you mention the page or pages where this matter concerning time of orientation is explained in H&P?
    – LPH
    Nov 22, 2023 at 18:19

2 Answers 2


In your two examples, the time reference of the participial clause is the span of time of the main clause.

I have been here all night, waiting for you to arrive.

I have completed the video game, taking my time.

P.S. Understanding "complete" there to refer to the process of playing and solving the game's challenges one by one, similar to "complete the form" (filling in the blanks one by one with the required pieces of information).

  • I didn't consider the different interpretations of 'complete.' In my head, the 'complete' in this example is not referring to the process, but the end result. We could imagine someone asking, 'Have you played the video game from a few years ago?' And the addressee could reply, 'I have completed it.' Perhaps by adding the participle clause, we force the past focus?
    – MJ Ada
    Nov 22, 2023 at 17:12
  • @MJAda I don't know what it means to say "I have completed the video game" unless it is something that has a definite progress and terminus, not merely an abandonment when you've grown bored, say. And if it's a single point-in-time, your participial clause is odd, since the -ing form expresses action-over-time.
    – TimR
    Nov 22, 2023 at 18:15
  • Some video games do have endings. Poor example on my part, sorry. It's similar to the equivalent discourse ending in 'I have seen the movie.' You've conveyed the point perfectly, though, in saying that the participle sounds odd with a single point in time. I guess my new question, with the context added to my old question, is 'Can we use a participle clause with a non-continuative perfect?'
    – MJ Ada
    Nov 22, 2023 at 18:17

Perfect verb form followed by a continuous participle element...

1: I have completed a tough game, beating stiff opposition
-- focus on the earlier time (before time of utterance)

2: I have completed a tough game, leaving me exhausted
2a: I've just won the semi-final, putting me in the final
-- focus on the actual time of utterance

So the answer is a Participle Clause can express the Same Time Focus as its Perfect Clause - but it doesn't have to.

  • Your second example sounds marginal to me. I have eaten quite a feast, leaving me with heartburn. ??
    – TimR
    Nov 22, 2023 at 16:33
  • 1
    Really? I'm not sure why, but how about I've just finished my third pint, meaning I should probably get a taxi home. Nov 22, 2023 at 16:38
  • What's causing the issue is the telicity of "complete" and "finish". They don't indicate an action that occurs over a span of time, at least not as you're using them, and the perfect there is more telic than temporal.
    – TimR
    Nov 22, 2023 at 16:42
  • 1
    @MJAda: How about if I "promote" myself to being more obviously the "subject" of both clauses, with I have completed a tough game, leaving myself exhausted. Nov 22, 2023 at 16:56
  • 1
    That definitely fixes the subject issue :)
    – MJ Ada
    Nov 22, 2023 at 17:05

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